Perceiving Focusing Instances - an appreciative approach to teaching Focusing

One of the present growth edges in the field of Focusing has been developing ways to apply Focusing outside of the therapy/self-help realms. Many of us have expanded focusing into various areas of our lives and have shared these experiences with others. In turn, the Focusing Institute has been collecting this growing body of knowledge.

What is offered here is a way of teaching Focusing that helps lessen the gap between "learning Focusing" and developing Focusing applications. I did not set out to create an approach that would accomplish this. Instead, my original interest was to develop a way of teaching Focusing that would honor and build upon participants' prior experience with felt-sensing.

An interest in 'finding the seeds of rightness that are already present'( to paraphrase Thich Nhat Hahn) drew me to the practice of looking for the places where someone is already focusing/ felt-sensing and pointing that out first, before teaching focusing as 'something different.'

In the process of developing this approach, I have come to realize that it has the additional benefit of lessening the gap between "learning Focusing" and "developing Focusing applications." This paper offers concepts (sections I-III) and practical suggestions (section IV) towards that end.

Rather than first learning 'focusing' in its traditional context, and then trying to find applications for it outside of the personal growth realms, the model I am exploring here supports the integration of Focusing applications into the process of teaching and learning Focusing from the very first sessions.

I. Re-examining early assumptions and theories from the origins of Focusing

Focusing is derived from the recognition that there was something that successful therapy clients were doing that distinguished them from less successful clients - offering certain qualities of attention to a vague, unclear, bodily felt knowing. All of the styles and schools of Focusing build upon this basic insight.

From this, it could be very easy to assume that some people don't naturally felt sense. At least, that was how I interpreted Gene's work.

I am beginning to realize that this interpretation was an over-generalization. While it is true that some people may not be aware of any bodily-felt sense in relationship to how their life is going, or beneath their emotions, there may very well be other places in their lives where these same people might be felt-sensing.

Because focusing had its roots in therapy, it distinguished between those who did and didn't attend to bodily-felt experience in a therapy setting.

However, if you went to a gathering of painters, I am sure that you would find that nearly all of them connect with their bodily-felt experience when they are creating their art.
Attend a surfers' convention on the beach, and you might find a group of people who connect with bodily-felt experience in relation to their passion.

This even applies to many academics and consultants - many have a bodily-felt referent which they are aware of in some area of their lives - connected with their passion, expertise, hobby, craft, etc.

 They may not realize that this wisdom, connection, and flow of aliveness and joy can be accessed in other aspects of their lives, work, relationships, and culture.

II. The ubiquity of felt sensing - implications of this in the teaching, learning, and marketing of Focusing

I would like to discuss some of the potential implications of opening to the possibility that there are areas where people are already felt sensing somewhere in their lives.

Holding space for this possibility, we can take time to actively seek out the felt-sensing that is already happening in each person's life.

Once identified, we can then reflect back to people where they already are in touch with their felt experiencing. This provides an already-present bodily felt reference upon which the remainder of their focusing learning can build.

This "appreciative orientation" can complement the many rich and powerful ways to sense into the body that Focusing trainers already learn during their course of study.

Of course, beginners are not skilled focusers. It could certainly be a problem if people concluded that, since they are already felt sensing somewhere in their lives, they have no need for further training. This caution needs to be kept in mind.

At the same time, we do not want to lose sight of the fundamental insight that Focusing offers to us, about our birthright as human beings -

Bodily-felt intelligence dwells and communicates and unfolds in all of us - in rich and diverse and wonderful ways.

By searching for, articulating, and celebrating the diverse forms which the 'ordinary miracle' of bodily-felt intelligence takes in each of us, we honor the truth of the power and potential that lies within us all.

In my own efforts to share Focusing with others, I have found a profound difference in respect, confidence, and empowerment when I can connect with the place in someone's life where they are already felt-sensing.

For example, at one point I realized that a relative of mine regularly accessed a felt connection when he was target shooting. After this realization, I could reflect that awareness back to him in a way that he knew I understood. This led to a conversation about the similarities of the qualities of attention and being between his sport and my focusing and meditation. Our connection, mutual understanding, and respect grew from this experience.

III. Value of a heightened sensitivity to 'focusing instances' in the teaching of Focusing

The core of this approach might be considered as 'learning to develop a perception of focusing instances in others'. It is offered to complement the more traditional training in helping others learn to recognize and deepen a felt-sense, to cultivate the Focusing attitude, and to companion/guide others.

An appreciative perspective affirms each person's capacity to learn, by inviting them to experience that they already know and use a few key aspects of Focusing somewhere in their lives.

Once we realize that most people have at least some area in their lives where they have experienced a state of 'flow' or have been aware of some Presence, we can become more open and sensitive to discovering those areas in others.

Once identified, those areas can be used as an "instance" of a place where people are connected, or where they are felt-sensing, or where something seems 'alive' in them.

 From there, focusing can be introduced as a deepening and expanding of a connection that folks are already experience in one area of their life, instead of "something that they don't know yet."

There are a few aspects of this that I find very powerful:

A) By-passing "resistance" to learning something unfamiliar.

Presenting focusing as something new and different can bring up feelings of being ignorant, and lead to resistance to having to learn something new. Instead of challenging the resistance, or directly engaging it by listening to it (which is a very valid option itself), we can instead connect with our shared experiencing from the beginning, and move outwards from there.

The belief that we are somehow not enough, and need something external to be ok, can be easily triggered by anything that suggests that we need something more than we already have within us to become whole.

The more that we are introduced to Focusing with the knowing that we already felt sense somewhere in our lives, with the understanding that we are going to explore, celebrate and expand the wonders of this gift together, the greater the confidence that can occur.

As a part of teaching Focusing to others, we can search for places in people's lives (hobbies, crafts, sports, work, pets, etc) where they are already operating on some felt sensing level. Some folks felt sense into their computer work or business operations!

Ways of tapping into these "focusing instances" include asking others about a situation in which they made a change, or "knew in their gut‚ that something was right (or wrong)," or in which they felt supported by another person, and then asking them to describe what that experience was like. All of these provide an experiential ground for the idea of felt sensing from the person's own past experience, and suggest that felt sensing is something that has been operational all along.

B) Tapping into the passion and creativity of participants' life energy

Areas of felt connection are often those of great joy, ease, flow, or achievement in a person's life - the places where they feel connected and in their flow and happiest.
They may be some of the most treasured places in a person, - little 'pockets of Life' in a something otherwise not-so-exciting life. How many people have said that they 'only' feel alive when they are doing their particular thing/sport/craft…?

By giving others space and time to connect with their own sources of aliveness and joy and flow, they already feel better. The loving attention given to something alive helps it grow and flourish. Sharing that place with others allows even more affirmation and expansion.

To be really seen and received by others in 'the place where we feel most alive' is a very respectful and life-affirming movement. Even more so, when people realize that their gift has even more to offer to the rest of their life than they knew!

Most people want to live more and more of their lives in this connected alive way
So, when we point out how this is similar to what focusing offers, and suggest that Focusing may allow them to take the way they relate with their areas of passion, and bring that same type of connecting to themselves or their relationships or occupation - you are offering them more of what they are wanting!

C) Teaching Focusing as a "specific instance" of a larger movement of "supporting and nurturing Life Energy"

The more we become sensitive to signs of connectedness with some deeper life flow, the more appreciative and life-nurturing we can become. Focusing-based workshops could be designed and offer to help teachers perceive and support 'signs of Life' in their students; parents with their children, managers with their employees…

IV. Prototype designs for teaching these processes:

Below are some of the core skills we use when teaching Focusing by "perceiving focusing instances in others":

1.) Asking 'generative questions'
2.) Looking for 'signs of aliveness' and connectedness while listening
3.) Having the language and conceptual understanding to explain felt-sensing and link the participants' experiences to aspects of focusing.

The following are a few modules that could be used in applying this approach to help others learn Focusing:

Module A - Asking generative questions, and looking for 'signs of aliveness' and connectedness while listening:

In a workshop or training format, we can ask participants to reflect on something they love to do, or are good at doing; something that helps them feel connected, happy, effective, 'in their flow'.

Participants can describe this activity to others in small groups and/or to the larger group.

The facilitator can be of assistance by reflecting back responses, and by asking questions that help people connect with their felt experience when engaging in certain activities:

"So, what is it like when you are hitting the golf ball and know you were in your groove - or if you are off a little - how do you know the difference?"

"How do you choose the right words in your poetry?"

Module B) Offering understandings to bridge participants' experiences and the realm of Focusing:

I have been emphasizing how people's own past experience can serve as an experiential ground for deepening their felt sensing. This experiential ground becomes even more solid when shared in a group. Witnessing one another's experiences strengthens the understanding that felt sensing is not something new or different, but something that has been operational all along.

One way to encourage this understanding and connection is to ask participants focusing type questions about:
a) How do you become aware of, or contact, your "inner knowing" or 'gut sense' while engaged in that activity?
b) What is your relationship with your inner knowing or gut sense? What kind of connection do you have with it? How do you use the information that comes from it?

These two movements parallel the biospiritual processes of noticing and nurturing.

For visual learners, responses to the following questions can be recorded on chart paper, and posted on the walls:

 'How do you get that feel?'
 'How do you relate to it/what do you do with it?'
'What makes it easier or harder to connect with it?'

Participants can share from their experience about how they connect with their golf game, poetry, art, woodworking... Then, the group can explore if any principles can be drawn about how to encourage a good relationship with felt wisdom.

[There is the option of going to Module C at this point, and then returning here, also.]

Once the experiential ground has been established, the teacher can talk about Focusing, what it can contribute to our knowledge of felt sensing, and to our inner relationship with felt experience. He or she can add any insights about the value or process of felt-sensing that were not mentioned earlier by participants.

 "Hmm, if I spend more time saying 'hello' to that place I feel when I get ready to paint, and sense into it a bit more, and give it some space, and notice when a critical voice is interfering,…"

When we teach Focusing as a way to connect with and relate to felt experience in any aspect of our being, people can apply focusing relational and sensing qualities to many aspects of their lives, beyond personal growth and self-help. Because the qualities that nurture felt senses are the same for different areas of experience, people can begin applying these skills to various areas of their lives within the first few hours of the training.

Module C - Crossing what we know about listening with what we know about felt sensing

An optional step here is to invite the group to shift gears for a few minutes, in order to explore another topic: when they have and when they have not felt listened to. This can be done in small groups, or in a larger group. The facilitator can record some of the qualities of good listening on another newsprint.

After participants have had the opportunity to reflect on these qualities, we may wish to add any missing elements to the list. This is an opportunity to share any insights that Focusing offers about listening - by connecting to or expanding upon participants' contributions.

Now we can explain that Focusing will help participants learn how to apply what they already know about felt-sensing with what they know about good listening.

The way that these two understandings about noticing and nurturing felt sensing are elegantly combined into one practice is a large aspect of the beauty and power of focusing.

At this point, you are likely to have an enthusiastic and empowered group of people who are excited to realize how that which already works well for them in some aspects of their lives can be expanded and applied to additional areas of their lives. From here, the remainder of one's usual teaching of Focusing concepts, skills, and attitudes can be linked back to these modules.

V. Concluding Thoughts and Invitation:

My background in experiential education and my deep love of Focusing have combined to generate these 'thought experiments' and design suggestions. I hope that they will stimulate further development and teaching innovations that will be of use to our Focusing community and to those whom it serves.

At the same time, I am not a certified Focusing teacher. These ideas are in their early stages, and are as yet untested on any larger scale. While I have taught individuals to focus, and have worked with groups in a variety of ways, I've not yet had the opportunity to teach Focusing to groups.

If you are intrigued by these ideas, I hope that you will explore them with your students and clients, and look forward to receiving any feedback, stories, and upgrades you may want to share to


Focusing Shareware -
 We offer this material for you to use freely in leading workshops, teaching Focusing, or working with clients. Please contact us with regard to any other uses of this material.


Created on ... April 02, 2004